by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, read on at your own risk!
Let the record show: I really liked Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s a fun, well-shot flick with some charming performances and cool character designs. Plus, I absolutely love that the revolutionary L7 becomes the brain of the Millennium Falcon – that’s a bit of mythology that feels genuinely additive to every other move that the Falcon has appeared in. But there is one place where the movie gets rightfully slagged, and that’s in the prequel’s need to label every thing. It answers questions no one would ever need to ask, like “Why is Han Solo’s last name Solo?” or “Why does Han call Chewbacca ‘Chewie?”” or “Why doesn’t Lando pronounce Han’s name incorrectly?” I actually find that last one kind of charming, but it is weird how much that flick seems focused on explaining why people use the names they use. Robbie Thompson and Leonard Kirk’s Star Wars Han Solo Imperial Cadet 1 revisits some of these naming moments and ultimately convinces the reader that what we call him doesn’t matter: Han Solo is always gonna Han Solo.
The issue starts with a scene that… if we haven’t seen it before, we can certainly imagine it with alarming clarity. Han is surrounded by armed aliens, and all he has to offer is a shrug of his shoulders as a probably-too-confident-for-his-own-good “I can explain.” Of course, he can’t actually explain. He’s got no idea how he’s going to survive to the next moment, but he’s knows he has to do something. Qi’ra blows up some of the aliens to create an opportunity that Han seizes. It’s a series of desperate gambles, and Thompson and Kirk are not implying that there’s any skill or cleverness or physical ability setting Han apart from the rest of the universe. He just doesn’t stop trying stuff.
As we move throughout the rest of the issue, Thompson re-tells a lot of the story from the first 20 minutes of Solo, including the infamous naming scene at the Imperial recruitment desk. The weird sentimentality from the movie is there too: “I don’t have any people. I’m alone.” Thompson works hard to undermine that sincerity a few pages later as Han’s new, character-revealing name is replaced by a serial number at the Imperial Academy. Now he’s 124-329, and he’s stripped of his clothes. In the ultimate indignity, they also take away any opportunity he might have had to fly for the Imperial Navy. The Empire, and by extension, this issue and the movie, are trying to take away Han’s identity.
But the one thing that we do know about
Han Solo Cadet 124-329 is that he doesn’t quit. When asked to identify himself, he winds the clock all the way back to “Han.” These other names are simply a method the Empire is trying to use to control him. Han’s unit-mate makes this point pretty blatantly:
The Empire gave him that name for a diagetic reason – to break his spirits, to force him to find identity as a faceless soldier in Palpatine’s Army. But it doesn’t work. Han still struggles against odds, and with no discernible plan, to get away from his unit. He ends up crashing his getaway TIE fighter, and ends the issue exactly the same way he started: mid-shrug and offering to explain.
The lesson seems to be that no amount of definition or labeling is going to change who this character is on a fundamental level. So, like, relax: those dice don’t break a character you already love.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?